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My First Ever Think Week

My First Ever Think Week

Twice a year Bill Gates takes a 7 day retreat in seclusion to read and think about big problems. He calls them Think Weeks, and some of his best work has come out of them.

When I read about this for the first time, it kind of resonated with me. My out of the box ideas have come when I have allowed myself space from distractions and given myself a lot of time to reflect and think.

In today’s Digital world we are constantly fighting distraction. Between client meetings and weekly deadlines, when do we get a chance to sit down and think deeply about the direction of our lives? For Bill Gates and many others who have adopted this practice, the answer is a solo retreat with just you and your thoughts. So to me it sounded magical.

Last FY was challenging on all counts, personally and professionally. As I stepped into March, end of a tough FY,I realized the busyness of work, be it official, personal or faith had started to fill my calendar to the brim. I was running from one virtual meeting to another. So many things were competing for purchase in my mind. My normal way of coping doodling, listening to music were not helping. I was fidgeting more, my attention was straying. The only saving grace in this constant busyness was my running/walking which kept me sane.

With so much occupying my days, I had significantly less time to think and reflect. I was working in a reactive way, rather than being thoughtful about how I should spend my time. I knew something needed to change, and that I needed to strike a better balance between thinking and doing.

So with the new FY 2021-22,I too decided to have my own version of Think Week. Infact instead of two, I am incorporating 4 Think Weeks. One Think Week every Quarter. As I wrap my first ever Think week, my experience has been mixed, since this was the first time and being a solopreneur I had not fore-warned my clients. Also I hadn’t budgeted for a solo retreat 🙂 So instead of getting myself locked in a secluded cabin in a far flung place away from civilization, my room became my retreat.

One thing for sure with no in person and virtual meetings, I really felt a lot lighter and freer from distractions. I had a lot of time in hand to catch up with reading, doodling my ideas and plan the new FY. Many times during the day I just sat/lied down in bed in stony silence, thinking and pondering my future. (Being a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism I spent quite a few hours chanting as well.) There is nothing quite like this, to be honest you can’t be just reading the whole day.

So what did I gain from this week long THINK WEEK? My time wasn’t only about reading, consuming and thinking. I also made sure to give structure to my plans for the year ahead, and brainstorm and reflect on a few projects like my side hustle that has been brewing since December, including ideas for a new Ebook. I also caught up with friends for the much needed Vitamin F 😉 In my world Vitamin F stands for Vitamin Friends.

I learned, the more time we spend keeping up with our daily tasks, the less time we spend getting ahead; that we need to strike a balance between reflecting and doing; that stepping back from our daily grind helps us to be grateful for the lives we lead; that our lives need more solitude.

Some of my key learnings from my First Ever Think Week are:

1. The more time we spend keeping up, ticking our daily things to do the list the less time we spend getting ahead. The more time we spend focusing on the work that’s already on our plate, the less time we have to think about the work/projects that we could or should be mulling over. I am guilty of falling into this trap of keeping up—letting my incoming work dictate what I should be focusing on each day.

The more autonomous the work, the more valuable reflection time becomes. In my case since I am a solopreneur it becomes more important. Margins are shrinking and I have to think of ways of increasing my revenue streams and hiring resources. Reflecting helped me step back from work and think about newer opportunities that are out there, process my challenges, and question what I could be doing differently..

We can lose sight of the most valuable tasks when we focus too much on keeping up with our daily Things to do list. This was my problem—I was spending every day replying to emails and planning client review meetings. These things are important, but they aren’t everything. My Think week allowed me to reconnect with the most important thing—ME. It also made me realize I need to say “no” more often and give myself the mental space to plan for the future.

2. The busier our lives, the less likely we will have the time to step back and reflect on them. We delay a lot of stuff when we are busy at work. In my case I have been guilty of delaying filing tax returns every year, as it requires a lot of efforts and bandwidth. We postpone holidays, spend less time mentally recharging, and just generally spend more time doing rather than reflecting. Being busy makes us feel important and wanted. But it also prevents us from stepping back.

Reflection allows us to correct our course so we can work in a more productive manner. The value of reflection applies to all critical areas of our lives. The more we reflect on our work, the more meaning we will find in it, and the less we will get caught up on unimportant tasks. The more we reflect on our personal life, the more we will start noticing and experiencing moments with our loved ones.

I got the chance to reflect on my daily habits and rituals I value, the meaning I find in my work, and the important relationships I have nurtured in my life. I also had the chance to think about the slightly less pleasant elements—like how much time I had been spending on my email and WhatsApp. Would I have noticed all this without the time to reflect? Difficult to say.

3. Taking time out for self and stepping back can reveal everything we had been ignoring and underappreciating. Unlike many friends who have a 9 to 6 job, I realized how lucky I was to have this week to myself, and how I had the privilege of time to think about ideas and plan for the future. I reflected on how grateful I was for my sister, Aunt, seniors in faith, my therapist, friends who not only put up with my weird ideas, I keep bouncing off them, but are also my greatest source of happiness. I gained perspective on how fortunate I was to be my own Boss—that gave me the freedom to try my own version of Think Week.

When we step back from our life, we reflect on it. This helps us note what’s truly important and what affects our happiness the most. We also get to see how our lives and the environment we live in are interconnected. There is immense beauty in this gratitude if you take the time to see it.

My think week made me realize how badly I needed this reflection time—how much we all do.

4. Covid and subsequent lockdown last year has shown that our lives need more solitude. Solitude can take many forms. For me, it was time away from Mobile and the feeling of peace that came with, while listening to my favorite music.

I read somewhere Solitude is defined as a state in which your mind is free from input from other minds. There are two levels of solitude. The first comes in the form of small blocks of reflection time (waiting in line without your phone, quietly sipping your morning coffee/tea). The second is the extended periods of reflection time where we get to disconnect for the weekend or take a temporary digital detox during a long flight. We need more of both.

However you define it, solitude is key to productive reflection. I am lucky—few of us have the flexibility in our work and home lives to take a full seven-day think week.

5.We need think breaks more often. Think week made me realize I needed more think weeks. That’s why unlike Bill Gates I will have 4 Think Weeks beginning of every quarter 🙂

Though my first Think Week was a mixed bag, I am in for these Think Week breaks and have already started looking forward to my second Think Week break in July. It’s not easy. It requires some fortitude, and need to have the support of loved ones and other stakeholders.

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